«CHARLEMAGNE: THE MAKING OF AN IMAGE, 1100-1300 By JACE ANDREW STUCKEY A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN ...»
However, not all representatives of this group of scholars agree on the most influential sources. Some opt for epic Latin sources, while others insist on anecdotal works.23 In the second half of the twentieth century, a number of scholars expanded the debate on the oral component of the chanson. Scholars such as Jean Rychner and Joseph Duggan have emphasized the number of possible variants the oral component adds. They argued that “…each perform…[represented] a new creation of a poem that does not truly
exist in and of itself, independent of its performance.”24 In his The Song of Roland:
Formulaic Style and Poetic Craft, Duggan further argued that the ‘formulaic style’ is evidence of the oral character. This complicates the issue because, for Duggan, the written chanson de geste leaned in the later period towards the Romance ‘written’ genre of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To Duggan, the ‘formulaic style’ was more prevalent in the early epic period, which indicated an oral component. A number of scholars have disputed that formulaic style is, “unique to oral literature” and claimed that is not even “proof of orality.”25
Those scholars that have suggested that the Chanson de Roland and other sources within its category have a long orally transmitted past have contended that the true origins lay in a pagan-Germanic past.26 They argue that the ethics and values are dictated by a Germanic shame culture, not by religion. However, in my opinion this interpretation is too narrow. In particular, I see the religious element as a critical element in the story’s theme, which is usually entirely neglected, by those that would argue that it is a biproduct of a Germanic shame culture. Rather than guess about how old the stories are or might be, it is necessary to work with the written sources we have.
Lately, the argument has been advanced that Chanson de Roland as we know it, may in fact be an ‘invention’ of nineteenth century scholars. Andrew Taylor suggests that the categories in which contemporary scholars view Roland are based on nineteenthcentury works, and are in essence post-medieval. This invention was a conscious attempt to find, “a direct expression of the national spirit, in a pure and original state…”27 The pressing need in post-revolutionary France for a national epic provided the impetus for the interest in the poem. Taylor argued that the title attributed to the poem is entirely misleading. According to Taylor, what “we call the poem it contains the Chanson de Roland, accepting the title Michel first provided, one that occurs nowhere in the manuscript.”28 As a result, contemporary scholars who study the work are from the beginning affected by the perceived context of its compilation. Everything from the title An early example of this interpretation can be found in the work of George Fenwick Jones, The Ethos of the Song of Roland, (Maryland, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963).
Andrew Taylor, “Was There a Song of Roland?” Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 76 (2001) p.
Taylor, Was There a Song of Roland, p. 53.
to the production of the poem is colored by some of the previous nineteenth-century scholarship.
It is entirely possible, as scholars of more recent times have suggested that there is no single theory of origins that applies to all the poems of the chanson de geste. A more multi-dimensional view has been adopted by some in an effort to shed light on the background of the popular epics of the later Middle Ages. With this approach, it is necessary to examine each poem individually, while still considering the larger cultural background from which they were produced, in order to determine whether it contains historical references to a distant past.
Much like the study of the chanson de geste, the legend of Charlemagne preoccupied all of the scholars mentioned above. The character and representation of Charlemagne, because of the frequency and prevalence, is arguably the most important figure of medieval epic. Writing in the early twentieth century William Comfort confirmed this idea when he argued that, …the figure of the great Emperor dominates to a great degree the whole body of the poetry which occupies our attention. It is with his epic personality and with his far-reaching activities that other persons and events are brought into relation. A study of the personages in the French epic necessarily begins with Charlemagne.29 The most ambitious study of the legends and myths surrounding Charlemagne is Robert Morrissey’s Charlemagne and France: A Thousand Years of Mythology.30 The study traces the developments of legendary status from the ninth century works of Einhard and Notker to the development of medieval epic and romance to a William Wistar Comfort, “The Character Types in the Old French Chanson de Geste,” Publication of the Modern Language Association 21 (1906), p. 282.
Robert Morrissey, Charlemagne and France: A Thousand Years of Mythology, trans. Catherine Tihanyi (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).
‘remythologizing’ in the Renaissance and Reformation and finally, to the nationalist interpretations of nineteenth century scholars.
There are a number of ways to approach the sources proposed for this study. Any analysis of the legend of Charlemagne and the epic tradition in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries has to take into account the possibility that Gaston Paris’ arguments or a variant of his ideas concerning oral tradition might have some validity. As such, it is prudent to consider the work of modern theorists who deal with oral tradition. One of the most important names in the field is Jan Vansina. In his, Oral Tradition as History, Vansina discusses the epic tradition and the use of oral tradition as a source of history. Vansina sees Epic as “a narrative couched in poetic language, subject to special linguistic rules of form.” Many of the sources used in this study do fit the component definition of epic including “… a historical dimension…correspond [ing] to actual events of minor or major importance.” 31 However, oral tradition is only a small component of the larger historical framework. It is not my intention to draw conclusions or even speculate as to a possible oral tradition or pre-history of the epic sources included in this study. I do not deny the relevance of this issue, but that it would significantly alter my conclusions. This is, without question, an important avenue of research, but simply not one that is the focus of this study. Therefore, I will proceed with the impression that the twelfth and thirteenth century texts that are available to historians and literary scholars are the products of their Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, (James Curry, London; Heinemann Kenya, Nairobi, 1985), p.
own time, and not a written version of long passed oral tradition. However, this is not to say that there are not previous models from Antiquity and the early Middle Ages that the twelfth and thirteenth century authors are not familiar. A combination of primarily Latin models certainly had an impact on the form and function of twelfth and thirteenth century literature. An ideal example is sources concerning the lives of saints. Although there are marked differences between twelfth century epic and hagiography, there are similarities in style and theme. Epic tends to be considerably longer and the concept of ‘heroism,’ unlike saint’s lives is virtually always the main theme.
I start from the premise that, as Paul Zumthor noted “literature simultaneously reflects and interprets a state of society.”32 Zumthor’s theoretical discourse is a much better fit for the present study. He covers a broad range of sources and deals with the continuities and broader tendencies of poetics. He also covers both medieval Latin and vernacular sources. He deals most significantly with twelfth century poetics and as a result to some extent with twelfth century culture. His questions for the historian are some of the same that will be the focus of this study. Those are; how did history determine the text’s mode of being? Was the relationship between the text and its public affected by the culture of the day? What was the author’s relationship to that culture and how did it affect the text? The author’s intent and reception, and the social function of the text are also critical for this discussion. Many of these functions included Paul Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, trans. Philip Bennett, (Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), p. 5.
“celebration or commemoration, instruction, and edification, moral-ethical exemplification, glorification and panegyric, propaganda and persuasion.”33 All of these social functions certainly apply to the medieval epic. However, although modern scholars recognize epic literature as being closely associated with legend and fiction, this was not the case in the Middle Ages. Prior to the fourteenth century, most of medieval society would not have distinguished between epic and history, although it has been suggested that medieval readers and listeners, distinguished fact and fiction within literary sources. This distinction manifested itself through the style of a text, whether it was prose, which tended to hold more credibility, or verse which was more closely associated with fiction. According to Nicholas of Senlis, a thirteenth century translator of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, “…many peoples had heard recounted and sung (the story of Charlemagne’s expedition to Spain), but never has so many lies been told as by those singers and jongleurs who spoke and chanted it. No rhymed tale is true; all that it speaks is lies, for it knows nothing but hearsay.”34 According to Zumthor, the thirteenth and fourteenth century marked a “…shift of perspective”35 when dealing with society’s sense of history. Although a prose translation of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle is no more historically accurate than the Song of Roland in verse, it would be reasonable to conclude that twelfth- and thirteenth-century culture viewed the stories of Charlemagne as part of their collective memory and history and accepted them as true.
Suzanne Fleischman, “On the Representation of History and Fiction in the Middle Ages” History and Theory, 22, (1983), p. 282.
Quoted in Gabrielle Spiegel, “Forging the Past: The Language of Historical Truth in Middle Ages,” The History Teacher, 17 (1984), p. 271.
Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, p. 287.
In addition, there are a number of typologies to consider when dealing with literary genres of the high and late Middle Ages. According to Suzanne Fleischman, “twelfthand thirteenth-century epics like historical drama of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, are acknowledged to have served a commemorative function: each performance constituted a ritual celebration of great figures of the past, a communal cat of self-affirmation and identification. These historical genres functioned as the collective memory of a community that was largely unlettered.”36 The sources and therefore the typologies in this study are somewhat limited because of space and time. The Middle Ages is a highly symbolic period.37 Consequently, even with limited written sources, it is possible to gain a general sense of the culture of the period.
The logical place to begin the analysis is to look at the French sources associated with the representation of Charlemagne. The sources that came from France most likely represent the largest and most important body of evidence as well as the earliest sources to be considered. The amount of literature produced during this period is extensive. In addition, Charlemagne definitely plays a predominant role in most of the literature from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Charlemagne appears quite often in French medieval literature and especially in the chansons de geste. The chansons de geste typically fall into one of three categories. The first is the cycle of the king (Geste du Roi). The second group is the Geste de Doon de Mayence, and these stories deal with adventures associated with the king (Charlemagne) Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, p. 283.
Maria Corti, An Introduction to Literary Semiotics, trans. Margherita Bogat and Allen Mandelbaum, (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978), p. 17.
feuding with some rebellious subject or vassal. The third cycle is associated primarily with the stories about William of Orange and his family. There are of course some that do not fit any of these three categories. Many, if not most, of these stories that I will analyze in this dissertation have a strong crusading theme, such as the Chanson de Roland.
The next area that is critical to analyze is the corpus of German literature produced in the same period. Much of this literature appears later than the French sources and is, in fact, based on some of the same stories and texts. The sources of German literature are not as abundant as the French collections, but the German sources do mirror the French tradition in many important ways. For example, two principle sources, the Rolandslied and Willehalm have significant references to Charlemagne and are based on earlier French texts. In the former (based on the Song of Roland), Charlemagne is a prominent character, and in the later, his legendary image is often mentioned. In both cases, as in the French sources, the image and presence of Charlemagne is very strong. The Kaiserchronik represents a large chronicle of Roman and German Emperors to Conrad III and includes significant passages on Charlemagne. However, the image that comes from the German sources might also be a great deal narrower than that of the French, simply because there are fewer sources to develop a more complex image.